Rebel Music: Sound System Culture, The Story of Blues Parties in Southampton was a 2019 exhibition devised by Don John. It explored the impact of Jamaican music on British culture, in particular, the extraordinary story of the ‘Shebeens’ or ‘Blues’ clubs that were a key part of Southampton’s music scene in the 70s and 80s. Bringing together new artwork, old images and found footage, the exhibition creatively explored why these sound systems emerged in the city and what effect they had.
There was an amazing opening night of the exhibition celebrated with the community, with live music in the gallery from Shannon B and Calvin Forbes, and a screening of the renowned film Bass Culture by Mykaell Riley that explores music from the 60s to the present day and the profound ways in which Jamaican music remade popular music in Britain. After the film, one of the original sound systems from Southampton, MAKA Foundation, entertained us at Belgium & Blues across the road from the gallery.
It was our 2018 exhibition Black To The Future that led to requests from the community to devise and curate the Rebel Music exhibition about the Afro-Caribbean underground music scene in the city. Rebel Music itself led to the start of a Southampton Black history research and archive hub with Solent University, University of Westminster, and local communities. They got the community talking about wanting permanent artworks telling Black history stories in the city, another project that we were able to make a reality later on.
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